Saturday, December 13, 2014

Best Albums Of 2014

Another year is almost in the books and 2014 produced some remarkable new music.  Many of these albums from established artists who's music was very much anticipated after outstanding prior releases.

One of the best of the year was released this Summer, "Hearts From Above" by Micky & The Motorcars.  After 2011's excellent "Raise My Glass," it was hard to believe this band could release a better album but "Hearts" may very well be their best to date.  Laced with a happier vibe than their last, MMC takes listeners on a blissful ride through the eyes of love.  For those of who dig heartbreaking songs, there's no lack of those, either.  Top tracks are "Once In A Lifetime Girl," "Long Road To Nowhere," "My Girl Now," "Tonight We Ride," and "From Where The Sun Now Stands."  My full review can be found here:

Lee Ann Womack's stunning "The Way I'm Livin'" is a long time coming from the Grammy winner.  Her last album was 2008's fine "Call Me Crazy."  This notes Lee Ann's apparent departure from mainstream country to the Americana genre. Lee Ann's music fits nicely here, as she's always cut songs from some of the genre's most well-known writers.  Standout tracks include "Chances Are," "Send It On Down," "Nightwind," "Don't Listen To The Wind," and the title track.

Another much-anticipated release was Wade Bowen's self-titled album in October.  Following 2012's major label "The Given," this new collection of songs is diverse and very different from his prior album.  The instruments and melodies are unexpected in certain songs, yet still sound perfect in placement around Wade's vocals and lyrics.  Key tracks are "Long Enough To Be A Memory," "When I Woke Up Today," "West Texas Rain," "My California," "When It's Reckless," and "Sweet Leona."

Sunny Sweeney's August release of "Provoked" was followed by the lead single's march up to #1 on the Texas Music Chart in October.  "Bad Girl Phase" was the song that took Sunny to the top of the chart, the first female to do so since 2003.  The first single from "Provoked" sets the stage for the sass and attitude that follows on the rest of the album.  Sunny is what country music should sound like, no topic is off limits and often her songs are a painful look at life.  Outstanding tracks include the lead single, "Front Row Seats," "Carolina On The Line," "Uninvited," "My Bed," "Sunday Dress," and "Used Cars."

Undoubtedly one of the most traditional country albums released this year was "Daylight & Dark" by Jason Eady.  Simple, stripped down, and earthy, this collection is a must have for anyone who's craving real country music.  The songs take a hard, realistic look at life between the bottle, heartbreak, and hope.  The finest of the bunch are "The Other Side Of Abilene," "Liars & Fools," "Lonesome Down & Out," "We Might Just Miss Each Other" (a duet with Courtney Patton), and the stunning title track.

Honorable mentions go to a couple of albums that do not feature new music but are must haves in any fan's collection.  Corb Lund's "Counterfeit Blues" is a Sun Studios recording of previously released material.  It's sort of a live greatest hits without the audience.  The album is raw, organic, and fresh, capturing the band's definitive sound.

Lindi Ortega's "iTunes Sessions" contains 6 original songs previously released, as well as 2 covers, including a smoldering version of "Ring Of Fire."  These 8 songs are stripped down versions, but still blow away the listener with Lindi's phenomenal vocals.

2014 offered these and other amazing albums, closing another year in music that continues to move and inspire the listener.  Here's to 2015 with what will no doubt be another extraordinary year for songs to fill the soul.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Album Review "Hearts From Above" Micky & The Motorcars

"Hearts From Above" is the 6th studio album from one of Americana music's best, Micky & The Motorcars, and is the much-anticipated follow up to 2011's stellar collection "Raise My Glass."  The new album of 12 songs has a much happier vibe than their prior but it does not disappoint in pulling at the heartstrings.  "Hearts From Above" is full of beautiful songs laced with the themes of travel, love, history, and a few rockers the band is known for.  A sound not heard for awhile on MMC's music is the addition of Cody Braun's (from Reckless Kelly) fiddle; it accompanies the Braun brothers' voices perfectly and hopefully this won't be the last time we hear fiddle on a Motorcars album.  Rounding out The Motorcars' sound is Joe Fladger on bass, Bobby Paugh on drums and percussion, and Dustin Schaefer on electric and acoustic lead guitar and slide guitar.

The title track and current single opens the album and sets the tone for the rest of the songs.  It's a mid-tempo love song featuring sterling harmonies from all of the Braun brothers.  It's a song about not only feeling love from across town, but from those who are looking down from above.

"Long Road To Nowhere" shows off a vulnerability in Micky Braun's voice I haven't heard since 2008's brilliant "Seeds."  The raw emotion in this road song is on full display and the melody is a bit melancholy in places.  The song bounces along teetering between heartache and hopefulness, conveying the desperation of the situation.

The album has a smattering of happy love songs but those are balanced with plenty of rockers MMC is known for.  "Hurt Again, " "Destined To Fall," "Fall Apart," "Southbound Street" and "Tonight We Ride" are all instant Motorcars classics.  "Tonight We Ride" is an intense anthem that has been humming in my head since the first time I heard it almost a year ago live.  The first two verses build into a soaring chorus about fighting for what you believe in.

"Once In A Lifetime Girl" takes the listener on a geographical love journey and it's a standout on the collection.  With Micky Braun's warm vocal backed by beautiful fiddle and heartfelt lyrics, the delivery is a simple yet lovely ode to the singer's girl.  It's one of the most traditional country songs found on this collection and one of my favorites.  

Another stellar composition is "My Girl Now," a mid-tempo shuffle that also leans heavily towards the traditional sound.  From the first verse of "I see you staring off into the distance...wasting wishes on every falling star...but they burn out just like every birthday candle...and you end up standing right back where you are..." to the last notes; it conveys the urgency to the singer's girl to stop looking around and be content where she is.  The melody is one of the prettiest in the bunch.

"You Led Me The Wrong Way" and "From Where The Sun Now Stands" feature Gary Braun on lead vocals.  The former written by Gary about an on again, off again relationship and the latter a stellar ballad about the plight of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce.  Written by Gary and Willy Braun (from Reckless Kelly), the song takes listeners back to a time where the Nez Perce, led by Chief Joseph, were forced from their home in the Wallowa Valley, Oregon, to Idaho, then on to Montana.  About 40 miles from the Canadian border, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Miles and is reported to have said, "Hear me, my chiefs!  I am tired; my heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."  The lyrics of the song mirror that sentiment and make for a very powerful statement set to beautiful music.

"Sister Lost Soul" is the only cover of the album, penned by Alejandro Escovedo and Charles Prophet, but it feels at home to MMC's sound.  It's a fitting tribute to former MMC bassist, Mark McCoy, and to all who've been lost.  

Micky & The Motorcars continue to create amazing music all the while touring relentlessly.  I highly recommend this new album (as well as the others) and also seeing them perform live.  
"Hearts From Above" is available on July 31st in limited locations, everywhere on August 5.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Guest Post - "Cabin Fever" Album Review

          Corb Lund is an artist it took me a shamefully long time to discover, and then to like. Consequently, I’m very, very late in discovering all of his albums, most importantly his latest, “Cabin Fever”. As it was released in 2012, I’m over a year behind. However, this album is so refreshingly different that I feel it still merits talking about.

          The tracks on “Cabin Fever” are really varied. There are love songs, cowboy songs, drinking songs, and….even a cow song! It’s things like these that tell me how truly artistic Corb Lund is. The fact that he is able to do all these songs, and have none of them come off corny is amazing to me.
          The album opens with “Getting Down on the Mountain," a crazy mix of what-if apocalypse scenarios and thoughts that the country is the place to be. I’ve never heard a song like this, and I think it was done really well. Plus, it’s a very good showcase of Corb’s songwriting and overall sound, and it gets you in the mood to listen to a Corb Lund album.
          Then, there is “Dig Gravedigger, Dig."  And yes, it’s really about a gravedigger. No metaphors here guys, Corb really went there! It’s a cool song, with elements of blues and a good groove to it. “Bible On the Dash” features Hayes Carll, a well-known Texas country artist. The duet is all about getting pulled over by the police, and the Bible on their dash getting them out of some unsavory situations.

          One of my favorites from this album is   “September."  This is a really sad love song about a rural man losing his girl to the big city. I haven’t heard a love song like this in a long time, so it’s refreshing. This is no standard breakup song, it’s all about the divide between the country and the city, and how some people want different things in life. . The very amusing “Cows Around” is all about cows, and how they make life better…or not. “Drink It Like You Mean It” is a drinking song, but Corb’s drinking like a serious person, not one of those ironic, amateur drinkers. I love the musical arrangement of this song, and Corb’s lyrics in it are witty.
          Then, there are the story songs” “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner” may be a long title for a song, but it really tells all. An unsuspecting antique gun owner gets shot by the person he was showing off his gun to. “Pour Em Kinda Strong” is a really big favorite of mine. The title is misleading on this one, and I didn’t realize that it was more of a story than a drinking song, at first. It’s a story about an outlaw, who just may have changed his ways had he not died in the end.

          Overall, this album is a must-have if you like country music, cowboy songs, or stories and humor in your music’s lyrics. “Pour Em Kinda Strong” is my favorite new story song, as far as outlaw and Western stories go. “September” is a beautifully sad love song that is also really unique. With his ability to convey many emotions, be it sadness or humor, this album is one of my favorite purchases in the last year. Add to all this that the fact that the deluxe edition of “Cabin Fever” comes with acoustic versions of all the songs on this album, and I’m extremely  happy that I’ve finally started liking the genius that is Corb Lund. 
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